For most associations, membership dues keep the organization up and running. Because members must renew their memberships each year to remain active and retain access to benefits, this is a fairly reliable stream of revenue for associations. Since strong, consistent membership is key to growing your association, it’s important to satisfy and engage members to motivate them to renew.
However, relying too heavily on dues to fuel your association can put pressure on staff to retain and recruit as many new members as possible. While staff should strive to retain and grow your membership base, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the demand to constantly reach new members to remain profitable. To relieve some of this pressure, consider further diversifying your revenue beyond membership dues.
While associations have relied primarily on dues, times are changing and revenue diversification is essential. In a 2016 study by ASAE, the organization found that on average, dues only make up 30% of total revenue for professional associations. In this guide, we’ll explore the following types of non-dues revenue streams and how you can implement them:
Remember that while your organization’s finances are important, members’ experiences should take first priority. To smoothly integrate these new revenue opportunities, consider combining your new revenue opportunities with members’ experiences through meaningful storytelling to promote the revenue streams. For example, you might feature a testimonial from a member who completed a course offered by your association and subsequently got a promotion using the new skills she learned.
To get started, let’s explore how conferences and special events can become valuable additional revenue streams.
For many associations, an annual conference or event is what their members look forward to each year. These events provide many benefits to members, such as networking opportunities, educational sessions and keynote presentations, and interactive workshops where they can learn new skills. They even have non-financial benefits for your association like assisting with new member outreach and supporting relationships with influential exhibitors and sponsors in your field.
Conferences also have clear financial benefits because attendees typically have to purchase tickets to enter—they might even purchase merchandise or food while at the conference. Additionally, any exhibitors at the conference will need to pay for their booth.
If your association doesn’t currently host a yearly conference (or is looking for ways to improve its events), follow these tips:
- Use event planning software. Choose association management software (AMS) that offers helpful event management features. For instance, your software should automate conference communications, offer an eCommerce platform where members can purchase tickets, and have a mobile app that will help attendees navigate the event. Fonteva’s guide to Salesforce for associations recommends choosing a solution that integrates with your existing tech stack so all event data will flow seamlessly into your existing reports.
- Market the event in advance. The key to profiting from a conference is attracting enough attendees and exhibitors. To reach these organizations and individuals, you’ll need to promote the event via association meetings, emails, newsletters, social media, and more. Make sure to reach out to your audience through the communication channels they prefer and use often.
- Choose a flexible event format. If you run a large, multi-chapter association or your conference is well-known in your field, it’s possible that not every interested individual will be able to attend in person. To accommodate potential attendees who may not be able to travel and attend physically, offer a hybrid event. This way, those who wish to attend in person can, and other registrants have the option to tune in from their homes or offices.
While an event does require some upfront costs and planning, it can be a large source of revenue for your association. To make sure your organization profits from the conference, carefully budget during the planning process, place effort into event promotion, and implement constructive feedback and suggestions into future events.
One reason many members join associations is to learn new skills and information. While covering new topics during meetings or hosting monthly educational sessions is a good starting point, offer members the chance to go deeper with educational courses.
Host these courses on your association website or learning management system and sell access to them on your eCommerce site. Morweb’s membership website guide recommends keeping these resources behind a paywall that members have to log into to access.
Some common ways to structure these learning opportunities include creating:
- A series of video lectures or presentations
- Interactive microcredential courses
- Written guides in a PDF or eBook format
- Mentorships or coaching sessions
- Discussion-based courses (e.g., members enrolled in the course read an article each week and meet to discuss it)
If your organization is smaller or doesn’t currently have the resources to build a full course, don’t shy away from offering other educational resources. For example, you might record and compile a series of webinars given about a specific topic and sell access to the series to members.
Selling merchandise is an easy way to passively generate revenue. Once you complete the initial preparation steps, your staff won’t need to put in much additional time or effort into this revenue stream. All your association will need to do is:
- Design the merchandise. Make sure it includes your association’s name and branding.
- Stock up on inventory for members to purchase.
- List each item on the eCommerce website powered by your association management platform.
To boost your sales, take advantage of opportunities to promote your merchandise. Conferences are a great time to sell special t-shirts, hats, or bags that attendees can take home as a souvenir. Additionally, you might offer sales around special occasions such as Black Friday or offer discount codes to new members to motivate them to browse your e-store.
Fundraisers are exceptional for generating additional funding for specific programs, events, or valuable member perks. For example, maybe you need to fundraise in order to support your mentorship program that connects members with college students looking for guidance. Or, maybe your association wants to partner with a local nonprofit to raise money for both causes.
While often necessary, it can be difficult to motivate members to participate in fundraisers when they are already paying membership fees. Try out these strategies to inspire their support:
- Be clear about the fundraiser’s purpose. Address any confusion about why you are fundraising at the beginning of the campaign. Because members already pay membership fees, they might feel more comfortable donating if they know there is a specific reason for the fundraiser. Be as detailed as you can to paint a picture of how their support will benefit the association (e.g., “With your support, we can book an industry celebrity to speak at our yearly banquet.”).
- Tailor your fundraising asks. When you reach out to members for donations, make sure to personalize your messages. Start by greeting them by name and explicitly naming any support they’ve given in the past. If they are a long-term member, acknowledge their years of membership. Create email segments that group donors by their level of involvement or the relationship with your association to ensure you ask for appropriate amounts.
- Have a stewardship plan ready. When a member decides to make a generous gift to your association, be ready to recognize this generosity. You might send donation eCards to members who donate to thank them for their support or even offer exclusive perks. When members see that you value their support (and that donating is rewarded with prizes and recognition), they’ll be more likely to donate again in the future.
When planning your fundraiser, utilize fundraising features in your AMS. These features will help you track fundraising progress, send donation receipts, and identify top donors. If your current solution lacks these capabilities, consider upgrading to a more comprehensive solution.
As you introduce these new revenue streams, remember to remain cognizant of things like donor or consumer fatigue. To avoid turning members off to these opportunities, make sure any new revenue stream you introduce will directly benefit members—and make sure those benefits are clearly communicated. Then, by the time renewal letters go out, members will be excited to renew and enjoy your organization’s new offerings.